Tonight I listened to “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby with my wife and kids as we went about our evening. Has to be queued up at least once each Christmas season. It was a staple on the drive to Grandma and Grandpa’s house back when my brother and sister and I would pile into the backseat and my parents would make the eight-hour trip from the Snoqualmie Valley to Coos Bay, Oregon.
Listening to it now brings back intense images of my grandparents’ house, their church (and especially that church basement where we spent so many Christmas days), the smell of woodsmoke from Grandpa’s chimney, the cold, clean salt breeze off the ocean, and the taste of Grandma’s krumkake.
Christmas in Coos Bay still holds a lot of meaning for me, though I haven’t been there for years.
The thing that stands out most in my memories is how much of Christmas revolved around Christ. Maybe that doesn’t sound very profound, or maybe that seems like exactly the thing a minister would say. But really, when you think about how inundated we are at this time of year with so many things to distract us from the simple message of the manger, I consider it a blessing that the most powerful Christmas memories I have focus on Jesus.
And that’s not to say presents and trees and all that don’t come into the picture. But I can almost hear the voice of my Grandpa saying, “We give gifts to remember the greatest gift of all that God gave us,” as he hands us presents in front of the fire.
My Grandpa Steenbock was a midwestern farmer by birth, a WWII veteran, and a pastor for many years. Still is a pastor, really. At 88 years old he preaches about twice a month – and this after having “retired” to launch a mission in Russia. He keeps talking retirement but I think they’re going to have to put him in the ground to get him out of the pulpit. But even with all his pastoral duties to focus on at Christmas time, he was a consistent presence in our lives. To this day when I think of him, I think of a rock solid faith and a commitment to the Gospel.
My father – despite a wayfarer’s independence that I inherited – held onto the faith his father imparted to him, though I think it was my mother who did more of the faith teaching in my early years. I have vivid memories of sitting with my mom and siblings going through the Advent Calendar that she made based on the devotions my Grandpa wrote. We use a copy of the same calendar and devotions with our kids today.
But even if my mom stands out in my memory as the one doing the devotions, my dad was still a model of a Christian life, faithfully attending worship, meetings, choir practice, fellowship meals, and all, even though it was a half hour drive each way. Though he still likes video and computer games (from Atari to Commodore 64 and up through the ranks to Xbox 360 – dude’s a gamer at heart), he also spent hours with his nose in a book, and when it wasn’t science fiction or fantasy is was theology. And he talked about the things he read with us, let us know what we thought about it and what he still struggled with. His faith mattered to him, and he lived it.
He made sure we lived it too. Presents were never opened until after the Children’s Service at church, and only then because we usually had to get on the road the next morning. When we hit the teenage years and trips to Oregon became less frequent, we still didn’t open presents until after Christmas Eve services, and then we were back in church the next morning for Christmas Day worship.
So you might understand why for me, Christmas really is all about Jesus. I don’t have memories of playing Santa or watching Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. I sort of remember the Charlie Brown Christmas special, but even that isn’t all that treasured a memory. At Christmas what matters to me is the baby in the manger.
I don’t see my Grandpa very often. I only see my dad about once every couple years. One of the sacrifices the ministry asks of you is to give up the right to choose where you live, and how close you live to your family. That’s okay. I get to work with the same Gospel my father and his father and our ancestors treasured. I get to make a career out of sharing Jesus with people. It is very cool. I am thankful for the foundation of faith my grandfather and my father laid for me. I only hope I can do as well with my sons.